One Hundred Years of Ella Fitzgerald

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on April 25, 2017 by telescoper

This morning Radio 3 reminded me that the great jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was born exactly one hundred years ago today, on April 25th 1917. She passed away in 1996, but her legacy lives on through a vast array of wonderful recordings. I couldn’t resist marking the anniversary of her birth with this track, which I hope brings a smile to your face as it does to mine every time I listen to it. This track won her  Grammy award for the best vocal performance that year, which is pretty remarkable because she forgot the lyrics to the song! Besides this, there’s a lot of other great stuff on the album Ella in Berlin (including more improvised lyrics and some sensational scat singing on How High The Moon) so if you’re looking to start an Ella Fitzgerald collection this is a great place to start.

Mack the Knife had been a huge hit for Louis Armstrong in 1956 and then again for Bobby Darin in 1959. By all accounts Ella was prevailed upon to add it to her repertoire for live concerts. She wasn’t that keen but  reluctantly agreed. Obviously however she wasn’t so  enthusiastic as to actually learn the words! On the other hand, when you have a wonderful voice and an amazing musical imagination, who needs the words? Ella not only made up some lyrics herself on the fly, but also threw in a rather wonderful Louis Armstrong impersonation for good measure. Enjoy!

 

 

Newcastle Up!

Posted in Football, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 25, 2017 by telescoper

I had a very full first day back at work after my holiday yesterday, which carried on after I had my dinner. So engrossed was in a research problem that I completely forgot that there was an important football match in the Championship last night. It was only when I finally downed tools – ‘tools’ in this case being pencil and paper – at about 11.30pm that I remembered that I should check the football results.

Last night’s game between Newcastle United and Preston North End (of the Midlands) finished 4-1 in favour of the home side (the one from the North). That result, combined with defeats on Saturday for Huddersfield and Reading in other games of the antepenultimate round of Championship matches, means that Newcastle have now secured promotion to the Premiership next season.

After last night’s match the top of the Championship table looks like this:

Championship

You will see that the maximum points total Reading can now  reach  is 85, Sheffield Wednesday 84, and Huddersfield Town (who have a game in hand) can only get 87, so Newcastle are guaranteed to be no longer than 2nd place.

At one point it looked like Newcastle United were going to take the Championship title by some margin, but they faltered in the last games while Brighton & Hove Albion kept up the pressure. It even looked at one point that Newcastle might fall into the playoff pack, but fortunately none of the chasing teams put together a strong enough run of games to catch them.

It’s anyone’s guess who will get the third promotion spot through the playoffs. Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday are both on good runs, but picking a winner out of those two, Huddersfield, Reading (and possibly Leeds) is very difficult.

Brighton look like being Champions now. They lost 2-0 on Friday away at Norwich City, when a win would have secured top spot, but they still only need 3 points to finish Champions. Mathematically, Newcastle could catch them but I’d say it is rather unlikely.

I do have worries about how well Newcastle might fare in the Premiership next season. Their home form has not been as good as one would have hoped this season, despite the fact that they regularly attract crowds in excess of 50,000 to St James’s Park.  Sometimes it seems that this increases the level of anxiety rather than spurring the team on. Moreover, I don’t think the squad has the quality needed to prosper in the top flight. The demands of the Championship are quite different from those of the Premier League. Manager Rafael Benitez knows this very well,  so I hope he is given the resources he needs to meet the new challenge. We’ll see.

Coincidentally, Newcastle United are on their travels on Friday for a match against Cardiff City…..

 

PhD Opportunities in Data-intensive Physics & Astrophysics!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff on April 24, 2017 by telescoper

I’m back from my little holiday having accumulated a very long to-do list, near the top of which are a number of things related to our new STFC-funded Centre for Doctoral Training involving the Universities of Cardiff, Bristol and Swansea. This will be coordinated by the Data Innovation Institute at Cardiff University and it covers  a wide range of data-intensive research in particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology carried on at the three member institutions. ‘Data-intensive’ here means involving very big data sets, very sophisticated analysis methods or high-performance computing,  or any combination of these.

The Centre for Doctoral Training is being coordinated by the Data Innovation Institute at Cardiff University. It will commence in September 2017. Applications have been open for a couple of weeks and we will be starting to make selections very soon so if you’re interested in this opportunity you will have to get your skates on! In fact, to secure a PhD place at this STFC CDT administered by the DII you’d better apply PDQ!

For further information on the programme, including details of some of the projects on offer at Cardiff, please see here. Follow that link if you want some more information about the application process.

By the way, for  this special programme, STFC have relaxed the  rules relating to  nationality, so full funding is potentially available for  non-UK citizens under this scheme – that isn’t normally the case for PhD studentships funded by the UK research councils.

If you’re looking to do a PhD in data-intensive physics or astrophysics, get your application in now!

 

Gay Sex, Politics, Religion and the Law

Posted in LGBT, Politics with tags , , on April 23, 2017 by telescoper

It seems that Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron is under fire again for refusing to say whether he thinks gay sex is a sin

I’m not a particular fan of Mr Farron, and won’t be voting for his party, but I think the flak being directed at him on this issue is unjustified. Much of it is pure humbug, manufactured to cause political damage.

Mr Farron (who is heterosexual) describes himself as a ‘committed Christian’. He no doubt feels that if he spells out  in public what he believes in private then it will alienate many potential voters even though he has voted progressively on this issue in the past. He’s probably right. On the other hand, by not spelling it out, he appears weak and shifty. The media are out to exploit his difficulty.

As someone who is neither heterosexual nor Christian I can help him. It seems to me very clear that the Bible does teach  that homosexuality is a sin and that if you’re a Christian you have to believe this at some level. 

I say ‘at some level’ because another thing that is clear is that the Bible does not consider homosexuality a very important issue. Had it been a hot topic then perhaps Jesus might have been prepared to go on record about it, but there’s no reference in the New Testament to him personally saying anything about gay sex. ‘Thou shalt not have sex with someone of the same gender’ isn’t among the Ten Commandments, either.

I do find it strange that so many people who described themselves as Christian obsess about same-sex relationships while clearly failing to observe some of the more important biblical instructions, notably the one about loving thy neighbour…

But I digress.

I don’t care at all what Tim Farron’s (or anyone else’s) religious beliefs say about homosexuality, as long as they accept that such beliefs give nobody the right to dictate what others should do.

If you believe gay sex is sinful, fine. Don’t do it. If you don’t approve of same-sex marriage, that’s fine too. Don’t marry someone of the same sex. Just don’t try to deny other people rights and freedoms on the basis of your own personal religious beliefs. 

And no, refusing you the right to impose your beliefs on others is not a form of discrimination. That goes whether you a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist or merely confused. You are free to live by the rules you adopt. I don’t have to.

I’d go further actually. I don’t think religious beliefs should  have any place in the the laws of the land. It seems to me that’s the only way to guarantee freedom from religious prejudice. That’s why I’m a member of the National Secular Society. This does not exist to campaign against religion, but against religious privilege. 

In fact the UK courts agree with me on this point. This is Lord Justice Laws, on behalf of the Court of Appeal relating to the case described here:


We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion, any belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic. The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.
 

To come back to Tim Farron, I say judge him and his party by what you see in the Liberal Democrat manifesto and on his track-record as a politician, not by what you think his interpretation might be of a few bits of scripture. 

Cardiff March for Science

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22, 2017 by telescoper

Here’s a couple of snaps of today’s Cardiff March for Science. It was a friendly and fun occasion attended by (at a guess) a few hundred people.  

It started with a rally on the steps of the Senedd building:

The assembled throng then walked around Cardiff Bay to Techniquest. 

This one was taken by another participant, Jordan Cuff (a PhD student in Bioscience). I am actually in this picture, but you can only see my back…

It wasn’t a very demonstrative march -there was no chanting or anything like that – but then it wasn’t really intended to be a demonstration, more of a very polite celebration! 

Oh, and nice weather for it!

March for Science – Cardiff

Posted in Politics, Science Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 21, 2017 by telescoper

MFS
Just a quick note to say that tomorrow I’ll be attending the Cardiff March for Science, which is one of a series of events happening around the world. I quote:

The March for Science is a celebration of science.  It’s not only about scientists and politicians; it is about the very real role that science plays in each of our lives and the need to respect and encourage research that gives us insight into the world.

The Cardiff March starts with a rally at 10am on the steps of the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and is followed by a march around the bay to Techniquest for a science event there to which families with children are particularly welcome. It should be a fun occasion  There’s a science-themed fancy dress competition. I’ll be going as a middle-aged man with a beard.

For further details see here or follow the Twitter feed:

 

 

The Einstein Theory of Relativity

Posted in Film, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on April 21, 2017 by telescoper

I thought you might find this film interesting. I think it’s rather wonderful, actually, though it’s silent and definitely pre-CGI. It’s also a bit dodgy on the science in a few places.

However, made way back in 1923 by Max FleischerThe Einstein Theory of Relativity  has to be one of the first science films ever made. Who can think of an earlier one?

P.S. Bonus points if you can name the soundtrack music!